12 sick; good communication can’t cover lousy management; Clover restaurant’s lapses preceded Salmonella outbreak

When a city inspector went to the Clover restaurant in East Cambridge last Friday, she found spoiled cauliflower, hummus, and various salads coming back from food trucks at improper temperatures, and no one on hand to supervise the kitchen staff.

That inspection, sparked by an outbreak of food poisoning among some of Clover’s customers, led the city to shut the restaurant indefinitely, according to a report provided to the Globe. Deborah Kotz writes the chief clover.food.lb.jul.13executive then decided to close the other three restaurants and 10 food trucks in the popular Clover Food Lab chain, which all are supplied by the East Cambridge kitchen.

Twelve cases of salmonella were reported in June and early this month among patrons of Clover’s various locations in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline.

While the state health department declined to comment, citing its ongoing investigation, Clover CEO Ayr Muir said in an interview that he has received details on half of the people. Those customers had eaten one of two dishes containing pita bread purchased from a supplier, as well as tahini, hummus, and a cucumber tomato salad made by Clover chefs.

Muir acknowledged there were food safety practices with which “we could do a lot better,” but added that he thinks food inspectors frequently note violations at many restaurants. “I think we operate some of the cleanest kitchens in the country,” he said.

Clover has become something of an institution among the health-food set. Its no-frills vegetarian fare attracted a devoted following after it began five years ago with a single food truck near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it grew rapidly. Its website promises locally grown and fresh food — so fresh that they have “no freezers. In the entire company. Not one.”

But Clover has racked up a string of safety lapses, ranging from minor violations such as greasy buildup on equipment, walls, and counters to major infractions such as a failure to provide handwashing facilities to employees in a food truck on Park Street off Boston Common.

Haven’t heard anything about how and where Clover sources its supposedly superior food.